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Elton John Performs Free Concert at USC, Says Short Fingers Steered Him Away from Classical Music

Verve/Universal Music GroupElton John has his short fingers to thank for moving him away from classical music to pop.  He told students Monday night at the University of Southern California that his fingers are like “cocktail sausages” and are not long enough for a career in classical music.

Elton gave a free two-and-a-half-hour concert at USC to promote his new studio album, The Diving Board, and to demonstrate his relevance in a musical world that’s changed since his big hits of the 1970s and ‘80s.

He told students to listen to everything, like he does. He said when he goes home he listens to Queens of the Stone Age or Disclosure. He raved about 16-year-old Lorde and 22-year-old country star Hunter Hayes, saying Hayes is “unreal.”  And he told any music students in the audience to listen to all styles of music and “not dismiss any genre.”

Elton’s concert was mixed with a few questions and answers with students -- like, why did he change his name?  Born Reginald Dwight, Elton said it was a “no brainer” because he “hated that f**king name.”  However, he said that doesn’t stop Eric Clapton and Chris Martin from calling him “Reginald.”

For an audience of mostly college students, Elton’s first song at Monday’s event was about aging: “Sixty Years On.”  Now 66, he was about the age of the 1,200 students in the audience when the tune was released in 1970.

Elton followed that with “The Greatest Discovery,” with lyrics he says he didn’t relate to until he had kids. He followed that with “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon” and “Your Song” before breaking for the Q&A.

Five songs from The Diving Board followed, ending that group of tunes with his new single, “Home Again.”  Then Elton dove back into his classics: “The Bitch Is Back,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “I’m Still Standing.” Then for an encore, Elton shooed away his guitarist and performed “Rocket Man” as a solo at the piano.

For much of the concert, Elton was backed not only by his own band and back-up singers but also by the USC student symphony and chamber singers.

Monday night’s event is expected to be turned into a documentary.

Elton will perform a tribute to Liberace at the Emmys on Sunday. The Diving Board will be released next Tuesday.

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